This month, we recognize Tony Ferrar, PhD, associate professor-in-residence in the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering. He was nominated by the college's associate director of academic advising, Shae Deschutter, who has co-taught an introductory seminar course with him, beginning Fall 2019. Since then, she has been able to progress in her teaching, eventually assuming the primary duties of the course, even though her background was not in engineering. She credits Ferrar's mentorship with helping her to succeed.
"In our first term I primarily taught lectures on time management and study skills," said Deschutter. "[B]ut each semester Tony has encouraged me to try to take on more technical lectures, often taking the time to first explain the concepts to me and then allowing me to practice my lecture with him before presenting in class. He has often shared examples from his first semesters of teaching and tricks he has learned. He comes to me when he is struggling with something in our class or his others to see if my “unique perspective” and insights can help him move through it."
We asked Tony Ferrar about his thoughts on mentoring. At first he was surprised that he was honored in this way, as he does not see himself as a formal mentor. After some reflection, though, he was able to share some thoughts in a blog post:
When people ask me what mentoring means to me, I form an image of a mirror in my mind. Teachers may be in the business of delivering new information, but mentors do something else: they help us see where we are. They help us measure our current status objectively, enabling us to chart a path to where we want to be...People don’t need to be told what to do. They need help seeing how the way they are currently doing things is aligned (or misaligned) with their values. Once we’re confronted with the truth, everything else follows naturally.
To Ferrar, mentoring is more of a two-way exchange. "I could easily rattle off a dozen things that have changed in the way I do my job every day because of something Shae has taught me. It's co-mentoring, where we take turns. There are some areas that I have strength, there are some areas where my colleague has strength, and we pour into each other in an exchange."
Ferrar's approach to teaching follows a mentorship model as well. At least former student Michael Mahoney thinks so. Mahoney, who graduated from UNLV in 2018 is now a mechanical engineer for the US Navy. He recently returned to UNLV and sat in on one of Ferrar's classes, sharing his experiences and the lessons he learned from Ferrar.
"As a former student of Dr. Ferrar’s, I can certainly say that this man’s method of teaching and mentoring has carried on past college and into my life in more ways than one," said Mahoney. "Dr. Ferrar has helped me strengthen friendships, relationships with colleagues and employers, relationships with others, and most importantly, has engrained within me the mindset that nothing is impossible. As his student, he always pushed me, and others, to produce work above and beyond our potential throughout time with him during school. This not only builds character and achieves good grades, but shines in the workplace and motivates you to work hard and achieve your dreams post graduation."
Mentoring colleagues for Ferrar seems to be a natural progression that flows from his teaching and is influenced by his interactions with his own professors. He tells a story about how early in his graduate program, a meeting with his advisor inspired him to become a professor, to "multiply myself," he said. "If teaching is a chance to 'mulitply myself,' maybe teaching the teachers is a way to 'exponentiate myself'."
Read his full blog post for more of Tony Ferrar's thoughts on teaching and mentoring.
Mentoring is a critically important yet often undervalued practice in higher education. The Faculty Center is committed to recognizing and honoring faculty at UNLV who provide this important service by advising, guiding, and mentoring their colleagues.
If you would like to nominate yourself or a colleague for a future spotlight, please complete this nomination form.